The neighborhood was quiet. Lush gardens were hushed under twilight. Gentle breezes tried to slip through locked windows. A child’s laugh rang through the air, free to roam without the roar of traffic. Light footsteps danced across the smooth sidewalk, but driveways were barred from sight. And beautiful homes decorated the scenery, but faceless ghosts remained encased in darkness, begging for her to walk on. And the tranquility of this block melted into a painted portrait of perfection because the peace here was gone.
Turning the corner, Janice headed up Maple Avenue. Crimson leaves stole across her sneakers, trying to hold on, but they fell away. Lone cars cautiously passed her, and eyes refused to catch her in sight. Gentle breezes stirred through her hair, invisible hands trying to ease her stress, but its touch was cold. And small feet stepped over concrete and pebble until they found a sea of green that stretched across marble steps, and her home waited for her. But as she drew closer, she found the front door ajar, and danger edged its knife across her spine. But if this were her turn, she would be ready, and she would not die without a fight.
“Why is my front door open,” she asked the dark corridor. “I locked it behind me.” She looked down at her hand. “Unless they have my fingerprints, this door should never have been open.”
“We had guests,” a soft voice drifted toward her.
“Are they still here?”
“Close front door.” The metallic door slammed shut behind her and locked in place. “Lights. Downstairs and up.” Brilliant lighting nearly blinded her. “Start scan.”
“Unable to comply.”
“Error found in system.” Janice remained standing in the hallway, growing anxious. “Sensors enforced.”
“Any life signs?”
“Yes.” The voice sounded hesitant. “There is, however, a strange anonymity upstairs.”
“Is it them?”
“Uncertain.” Rivers of ice pumped through her veins. “They were here earlier.”
“Did they take anything?”
“Of course not.”
What would they take, she muttered. Her jewelry was all gone, sold to ensure her stay here. She did not decorate in wealth, and any payment went to the essential needs; food, water, and clothes. They were probably disgusted, bent on claiming something especially with having to deal with her security system, so what did they want? A life for greed, ransom, or just to waste time?
They arrived a month ago. Like a swarm, they descended upon every neighborhood, leaving destruction and tragedy behind. Wealth poured red through their fingers, and their thirst for greed grew. And they were untouchable. Those that tried to stop them died slowly, and no law could bind them. When one died, another emerged, worse than the one before, and all rationality was gone. And all that was seen were those penetrating, green eyes, and that was the last sight for each and every one of their victims. And now they were here in her home, waiting upstairs for her to walk into their trap, but she would not be their prey.
For the past month, she increased training. Her reflexes were fast, razor sharp like a cat, and she had no need for weapons. One mistake, and her protection would become her undoing. No, this would be done on level ground, Bruce Lee style, so let them try to take her down. She would be the water slipping through their hands and the wind ripping through their backs, and she would be the unstoppable one. And maybe she could even end their onslaught of crime, but was that possible?
Doubt clung to her like a million spider webs, but she forced herself up the stairs. Her fingers dug into the slender, wooden banister, and her eyes darted across the walls, searching for shadows. Her breath caught in her throat, but she told herself to breathe. And her reflexes tightened, waiting to snap, but the enemy remained hidden. But she was certain of being watched.
“Come out!” Her voice was strong, but a tremor nearly followed. “Show yourself!”
“Should I alert the authorities?”
“What good would that do?” She snapped at the empty stairwell. “They were not able to save that family from being slaughtered last week, and when the police did get there, those monsters were already gone, leaving no trail to follow. No, sometimes, the law needs to be taken into your own hands especially if they break into your sanctuary, bent on harming or killing you.”
“But isn’t that illegal? Murder?”
“It’s not murder when it’s survival.” A creak on the floor caught her attention. “Go into silent mode. Give me twenty minutes, and then call the police.” She heard a beep, knowing her message was received, and now she was alone with the intruder waiting for her. “This has to be done. They can’t terrorize us like this, making us feel helpless, and somebody needs to bring them down.”
“Would that somebody be you?”
His slick voice cut between his jagged teeth. Narrow green eyes floated down toward her. Black fingers dripped red against the wall. Yellow flesh stuck out from under his bloodstained shirt, and dirt rolled down his pants like a miniature avalanche. If not for the bare human similarities, she would have thought him an animal, monster, but if any rationality were left inside that dark mind, he would not be as he is. And he would not want to take her life.
“I asked you question. Do you think to stop me?” She was in a bad position, and he knew it. “I’m alone.” She continued to tense up. “Trust.”
“Trust? Trust you? Do you know how many people you have killed, the houses that you burned down, and the orphans that you barely left alive? Trust? Trust you. No, I rather not.”
“We’re no different.”
“I beg to differ.”
“If I were monster, than why am I alone? Where are my brothers?”
“They moved on. To your neighbor’s house.” She winced at those words. “I could not stop them.” She glared at him. “I disabled your security system. Impressive.” His words echoed through her. “I do not want to kill you.”
“Then, what do you want?”
“To be like you.” She laughed. “It’s possible.”
“Your kind were test tube babies, born and raised to fight our battles, and somewhere, somehow, the DNA strain mutated into your kind. And you declared war on us.”
“Because you used and betrayed us.” They glared at each other. “We do not fight your battles. We do this to survive.”
“No. You do this to control.”
“So, we at stalemate?”
“Look, we were wrong to play God.”
“And you were wrong for trying to cover up our existence, but we still survived. And when one dies, another is born through the blood that pours out across your green earth. You can’t stop us. We’ll destroy you.”
“Or we’ll destroy you.” He took a step toward her. “I did not want this.” He took another step toward her. “We had no choice.” Another step. “We were losing the war, the world.” Another step. “You were meant to give us hope.” He paused in mid-step. “Instead, we delivered ourselves into annihilation, and maybe we deserve this. And maybe we don’t.” He stared at her. “But one way or another, we will survive because that is what we do, so you want to tear down our cities, murder the innocent? Well, I got news for you. You won’t break us. You’ll piss us off.” He reached toward her. “Trust that.” She grabbed him by the wrist and flipped him over her shoulder.
His weight nearly forced her backward, but she grabbed onto the wooden railing. And he tumbled down the stairs, spurting incoherent words at her, but she was done listening. A sick thud echoed into the silence, and an empty gaze found her. And a pool of red dripped onto the floor, trying to slip out under the front door, but she moved fast, kicking the blood away with her sneaker until it stopped trying to get past her. And she knew that he was finally dead, but there were more out there, waiting to terrorize.
“This is my fault.” Tears stung her eyes. “What did I do?”
The last war nearly claimed this world, and humanity was on the brink of annihilation. Vicious viruses tore through the immune system, and the dead were building up. And the only cure fell to her because of the unique qualities of her DNA, and once that war ended, another began. And the only way to fight those looking to seize power in the aftermath of a global epidemic was to create soldiers from her genetic material, but nobody could have expected this, expected them to turn on those that brought them to life. And now they were here, bringing this war to her doorstep, her home, and she was the only one that could stop them. But when the dust settles, and if she survives, would it still be too late? Would the perfection of peace remain a torn and faded portrait, and would they go on, trying to survive in a world defined by destruction and tragedy?